In the quest for muscle growth, endurance or strength gains, it is essential to take adequate rest between sets. The duration of rest, often overlooked, is an important component of a workout session, where too little or too much can break your workout effectiveness. It should not be a crunchable or stretchable part of the session, depending on how much time you need to catch your breath or finish a day’s workout. Figuring out the optimal rest duration in your workout routine is essential for muscle growth and optimal performance.
What happens when you rest between sets?
Exercise plans for strength and muscle gain usually involve lifting heavier weights and exerting the muscles to near fatigue. Longer rest periods allow for the replenishment and restoration of the energy source ATP (adenosine triphosphate) as well as the phosphagen and glycolytic energy systems (which supply energy for short, high-intensity activities) within the muscles. This is necessary for high-intensity efforts in subsequent sets, where the muscles recover and produce maximal force. While lifting heavier weights, the central nervous system (CNS) fires vigorously; longer rest intervals help the CNS recover and perform optimally.
How long should you rest between sets?
The amount of rest required between sets has been a topic of debate for some time now. A study published in the journal Sports (Basel) in 2018 concluded that 95% of the surveyed participants admitted to resting for 15 to 60 seconds between sets. Although information about training intensity was not available, it was stated that shorter rest intervals could interfere with training performance.
Another study published in the Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies found that short rest periods of 60 seconds within paired sets could be a potential alternative for increasing the volume load. In addition, longer rest intervals of 90 to 120 seconds did not provide any additional benefits.
However, a systematic review published in the journal Sports Medicine in 2018 concluded that robust gains in muscular strength can be achieved even with short rest intervals of less than 60 seconds. Longer rest intervals (more than two minutes) are, however, required to maximize strength gains in resistance-trained individuals. As far as untrained individuals are concerned, short to moderate rest intervals of 60 to 120 seconds are sufficient for maximizing muscular strength gains.
“The amount of rest between sets depends a lot on what the individual is expecting from their exercise routine,” says Dr Rahul Puri, orthopedic surgeon, Apollo Speciality Hospital, Jayanagar, Bangalore. “Those who are looking for more endurance should have a shorter rest interval between sets, ranging from about 30 to 40 seconds maximum; however, those who are looking for more power and maximizing their muscle bulk need to have slightly longer intervals, maybe around 90 seconds to two and a half or three minutes.”
Training style, goals and rest intervals
Varying rest periods can be beneficial for a well-rounded approach. Incorporating shorter rest periods might increase metabolic stress, which can contribute to muscle growth. On the other hand, compound exercises like deadlifts and squats require more rest compared to isolation exercises like the bicep curl or skull crushers.
“If the same muscle isn’t being worked out, then it doesn’t really matter. The rest interval depends on how many muscles you’re using in the next exercise. If you’re not engaging the same muscles, you need not have a long rest period; something like one minute or 90 seconds should be good enough,” explains Dr Puri.
Supersets: Can they help finish workouts faster?
Long periods of rest could lead to people running out of time to finish their workouts. Supersets involve working out the opposing muscle groups back-to-back with little rest in between. “Supersets, however, are not performed with the idea of finishing the workout faster,” says Dr Puri. “That concept itself does not make sense. The basic idea of doing a superset is to work the antagonistic muscles in the same workout. The whole idea of doing supersets is that it can maximize energy burn, be it aerobically or anaerobically.”
Supersets are not advised for beginners, as they must focus on getting their form right and feel the muscle contractions before incorporating complex movements. “Someone who has been working out regularly for a few months can do supersets,” adds Dr Puri. “Initially, they should start with one or two exercises and then gradually progress depending on how comfortable and easy they’re finding it.”
Rest between sets: the bottom line
The optimal rest period may vary based on the individual’s recovery rate and fitness level. “There is no fixed concept for rest intervals stating that for a particular exercise, ‘x’ amount of rest is needed,” says Dr Puri. “The rest period between sets should depend on what exactly you’re trying to achieve. It must be more individualized based on what the person wants out of their workout.”
For untrained individuals, going to the gym consistently with short to moderate rest intervals of 60 to 120 seconds is sufficient. For experienced individuals training for strength, a rest period of up to 3 minutes is required between heavy sets.
- A short rest period of 30 to 40 seconds is sufficient for muscle endurance.
- A longer rest period of up to 3 minutes is recommended for muscle growth and strength, as the body needs to recover after lifting heavy weights.
- Compound exercises require more rest between sets than isolated exercises.
- While supersets can be done to save time, they aren’t based on that concept. Supersets are performed to work the antagonistic muscle groups in the same workout session.